Let me show you why I think we need to ask for evidence:
“Hi Pixie, we love your Instagram and think we’d make a great collaboration! We’d love you to try our new product X, we think it’s great because it boosts immunity, gives you energy, improves digestion, and reduces inflammation!”
“Hi, thanks for your email! I was wondering if you could provide me with some evidence to back up these claims you’re making. Thanks!”
I get emails like this almost daily, and reply to them like this on a regular basis to. And what do I get in reply to my polite request? Either 1) a press release repeating the same claims without evidence, or 2) crickets.
I can count the number of times I’ve received a sensible response from a company on one hand. That shouldn’t be normal. Why is it that we’re so willing to go along with vague BS claims like these, without stopping to think whether they might be true? If you claim a pharmaceutical drug cures headaches, you need a whole stack of evidence to be allowed to make that claim. Yet in the wellness and supplement industry, it’s a whole different story as claims just aren’t regulated in the same way.
I think they should be.
But more importantly, we need to ask for evidence.
Bloggers and influencers in particular have a responsibility to ensure that the recommendations and information we give out is accurate. How can we do that if we don’t question the things we’re told in press releases and emails? I’ve seen plenty of bloggers copy and paste entire sections of press releases into blog reviews, which is not only lazy, but clearly demonstrates that they haven’t thought about the claims being made at all. No wonder companies seem so shocked when I reply the way I do!
These claims may seem harmless but they contribute to the overall role the wellness and ‘clean eating’ movement plays in orthorexia, body dissatisfaction, and the culture of “if you eat like me you’ll look like me”, which just decides to completely ignore genetics. On the more extreme end of the spectrum you get cases like Belle Gibson, where even her publisher didn’t question her cancer claims, and are now paying the price as a result. I can’t help but wonder how many individuals with cancer have been negatively affected as a result of Belle Gibson’s outlandish claims of curing cancer through diet? How many deaths is she indirectly responsible for?
I really feel strongly about this topic (can you tell?), but I’m far from the only one. I also reached out to a few other bloggers to get their opinions.
Maxine Ali, food and health blogger promoting balance and dessert queen:
“Part of the reason many people aren’t asking for evidence is because we’re living in the era of the individual, where the stories, opinions and practices of one are far more engaging than that of large groups and nameless statistics. We getting more and more invested in people and when we consume so much of what they say and spend so much time in their ‘presence,’ just like we would a friend, we trust what they tell us and value their word. For that reason, we don’t question the information they tell us… whereas those scientists telling us the hard-core facts? They’re parts of academic bodies, distanced from real life connections and experimenting on nameless subjects we have little interest in.
Blogging is still a pretty unregulated industry because the most popular forms that the wider public are aware of are pretty harmless. It’s okay to trust the opinion of a fashion blogger because even if you go out wearing the ugliest outfit in the world, it’s not going to hurt you in the long run. But, when you blog about health, the repercussions of putting out information and being an ‘influencer’ are far more devastating if they aren’t true to fact. Any malpractices can potentially lead to a lifetime of ill health. But the lines of blogging are so blurred that it’s only taken us this long to realise the potential impact health blogging can really have on those who consume that content.
We need to ask for evidence because without it we’re simply going on the word of one individual who may have little more knowledge about nutrition and health than a goldfish. Quoting one study or sharing what worked for them is not enough. Always ask for ALL THE FACTS and make an informed decision before embarking on any lifestyle changes for you health.”
Laura Thomas, Registered Nutritionist (PhD, AfN) and amazing podcast host:
“I think asking for evidence is super important – but it’s also important to think about who you’re asking. So often I see bloggers link to one or two abstracts on pubmed that back up the point they’re trying to make. That doesn’t constitute evidence. They don’t have the skills, education, or experience to critically review that paper – determine the strengths and weaknesses of a study, interpret complicated statistics, understand if the researchers used the best methodology, or even asked the right questions to begin with, let alone talk about other studies on that topic and gaps in the literature (i.e. what studies still need to be done).
There are entire organisations of highly qualified scientists who spend years sifting through ALL the evidence, not just one or two choice papers (hello, cherry picking!) to see where the balance of the evidence lies. To get the whole story, not the one that’s convenient to a particular narrative. These are typically the basis of government recommendations for things like Dietary Reference Intakes and represent the best available evidence at a given moment. The only other people you should trust to give you credible nutrition information are Registered Nutritionists and Registered Dietitians. Everything else is a gamble.”
Natasha Lipman, chronic illness blogger, Charity founder, and all-round superwoman:
“I think that if bloggers are writing in any way about health and wellness they need to take responsibility for the content that they put out. Ultimately, the vast majority of us are not experts in any way shape or form, and have no right to be dishing out information as if we are. Whether we like it or not, our audience (and let’s face it, it’s mainly younger women) will try to imitate us – be that food, drink, exercise or ‘yoga wear’. There’s nothing wrong with sharing what you do and how you live your life. But there are a few trends that really worry me:
1) People offer extreme dietary advice based on pseudoscience or are unable to back up their claims. They copy ideas from each other. If they do offer evidence it is often from studies that can be dismissed as bad science. Also, testimonials are not evidence.
2) A lot of bloggers I have come across have actively chosen to hide eating disorders – again, their choice. But when you’re showing your lifestyle as something for others to aspire to, you’re being misleading and this is dangerous as it is normalising something very unhealthy (as is advocating cutting out whole food groups for everyone based on invalid evidence)
3) This leads to a lack of acceptance that ‘what works for me may not work for you’. There’s a lot of cult-like judgement in the whole wellness scene. Some bloggers (and the media) take it even further by claiming that these diets can cure severe illnesses. This is actively dangerous and upsetting. People go so far as to advocate replacing medical treatment with diet – based on evidence from dangerous quacks. The least harm that can be done by wellness bloggers is that it inspires others to eat more healthily. Great, yay fruits and veggies. But people can die from the misinformation that is spread. So whether people like it or not, it is their responsibility to share factual information when it comes to health and wellness.”
I couldn’t agree more. Asking for evidence needs to become the norm.